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Summer camps are requiring children get vaccinated amid measles fears

Each summer, as Lauren Rutkowski and her husband Joel await the arrival of energized, sun-kissed children for their seven-week camp, the couple surveys the c...

Posted: Jun 19, 2019 8:31 AM

Each summer, as Lauren Rutkowski and her husband Joel await the arrival of energized, sun-kissed children for their seven-week camp, the couple surveys the canoes and paddleboards, the arts and crafts, the food menus -- and every camper's vaccination records.

Measles outbreaks in the United States continue to grow, rising to 1,044 cases nationwide so far this year. In response, more camp owners and the camping industry are urging families to follow vaccination policies.

Some camps that require all participants to be vaccinated against measles, even if parents have religious objections, have not accepted campers who are not immunized.

These efforts to prevent the measles virus from traveling to and within camps aren't in vain. Medical experts warn that the virus can quickly spread in close quarters.

'Camps have definitely taken the stand'

"It's fair to say that a lot of camps that perhaps were accepting things like religious and philosophical exemptions have made the decision not to accept those," said Lauren Rutkowski, the owner and director of Camp IHC in Pennsylvania, which is accredited under the American Camp Association and does not accept nonmedical exemptions.

As for the camp, "we always review medical records as they come in, and we really have been double-checking more of the international staff members' medical forms because different countries have different ways of submitting them," she said.

What has changed, Rutkowski said, is that Camp IHC often participates in inter-camp sports activities with more than 30 other camps within Wayne County, Pennsylvania, and this year the Wayne County Camping Alliance has required all participants in inter-camp sports to disclose whether they received their measles, mumps and rubella vaccine.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends children get two doses of the MMR vaccine: the first at 12 to 15 months and the second at 4 to 6 years old.

"That was a significant change that was made in Wayne County that I think really helps protect the families who are choosing to send their children to our camps over the course of the summer," Rutkowski said.

"I was really interested in finding out the Camp Alliance's position on immunizations, because it's one thing for me to ensure my community are immunized but if other camps that are coming onto my property or I'm going to theirs are not enforcing immunizations, that obviously puts my community at risk," she said.

She added that the growing attention on preventing measles from spreading to camps reminded her of when swine flu was a concern among camp owners in 2009. That year, the H1N1 strain of swine flu infected many people -- approximately 60.8 million cases, 274,304 hospitalizations and 12,469 deaths occurred in the United States, according to the CDC.

"Similar to measles, it can be left behind on door handles, elevator buttons, that kind of thing," Rutkowski said.

"Although camps have been dealing with an increase in adenovirus and things like that, we are ready and equipped to deal with those things with the protocols that we already have in place," she said. "With things like swine flu and then now with the measles outbreak, it's stepped it up a notch and has caused camps to really look at their protocols and then maybe make some amendments -- like for example whether or not you're going to accept exemptions to immunization."

A camp's decision to accept religious or philosophical exemptions typically falls in line with what its state or city requires for schools.

New York is the epicenter of the US outbreak; more than 800 people there have become sick, and New Yorkers have infected people in four other states. Last week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation requiring schoolchildren to be vaccinated statewide, even if parents have religious objections. In other words, the legislation removes nonmedical exemptions from school vaccination requirements.

"So with that, especially this summer, camps have definitely taken the stand where many that previously may have accepted religious exemptions are saying, 'No not this summer. We're sorry,' " said Susie Lupert, executive director of the American Camp Association's New York and New Jersey region.

"Camps are accepting the fact that they might be losing families over that, and some families have come back to camp and said, 'You know what, we're willing to come back this summer and get the MMR,' because they really want their child to attend camp," she said.

A study published last year in the Journal of Pharmacy Practice previously found that the MMR vaccine was among the vaccinations required or recommended for campers by at least 80% of camps in New York.

Camps that are regulated and accredited with the association do their due diligence to track medical records and make sure campers are not at a heightened risk of infectious diseases.

Yet "there are thousands and thousands of camps across this country that are unregulated -- they're not licensed; they're not keeping track of medical records; they're not doing background checks on staff -- and there's lots of loopholes for how a camp can get away with this," Lupert said.

"Parents need to do their research and make sure they are choosing a camp that at the minimum is regulated and that in our opinion should be accredited with our association," she said.

What medical experts say about measles and camp

On Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics published new recommendations for health and safety practices at summer camps, recommending that before starting, all campers and staff should be up to date on their immunizations.

The recommendations describe nonmedical exemptions for required immunizations as "inappropriate" and note that "these exemptions should be eliminated by camps."

The recommendations are not to "exclude" or "isolate" children, "but it's really about keeping the children safe and protected," said Dr. CharlRe' Slaughter-Atiemo, a pediatrician at the University of Maryland Medical System in White Plains, who was not involved in the American Academy of Pediatrics statement.

She described the public health threat that the nation's measles outbreak could bring to summer camps as "scary" and "a little bit dangerous." She encouraged parents to vaccinate their children, especially if they plan to attend a camp this summer.

"For any public school, and honestly for any center-based camp or daycare, children are required to submit a vaccine record when they are applying for these programs -- and whether a program accepts them or not is obviously at their discretion," Slaughter-Atiemo said, referencing how some may accept philosophical or religious exemptions while others may not.

"New York, Texas, Florida, California -- all of those areas where you have a lot of people traveling internationally and going back and forth; those are the big high-risk areas," she said. "So for sure in those areas, I'm sure there are a lot of camps and programs that are making it mandatory for kids to get the vaccine before being enrolled in the camp."

For now. the rules and policies relating to vaccination requirements at camps can still vary by state, county and even individual camp programs.

When it comes to schools, for example, "there's no federal laws but there are some different laws by state. Some states allow only medical exemptions. Some allow medical exemptions and then also different religious or philosophical exemptions," said Brittany Kmush, an assistant professor at Syracuse University in New York, who specializes in infectious diseases.

She added that the measles virus can easily spread in an enclosed environment such as a sleepover summer camp.

If an infected person coughs or sneezes, the measles virus can linger infectious in the air for up to two hours, even after that infected person leaves the area.

"So it's very contagious -- a very contagious disease -- and if one child comes to a camp with the measles virus and can spread it, then it puts the other children at risk," Kmush said.

"You're not going to send them to summer camp without sunscreen," she added. "You should probably send them with all their vaccinations too, because you want to let them have the best time that they can at camp, and if they're sick they're not going to be able to."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 307519

Reported Deaths: 7096
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto20784248
Hinds19894408
Harrison17493302
Rankin13316275
Jackson13099243
Madison9896210
Lee9859169
Jones8293160
Forrest7523146
Lauderdale7189237
Lowndes6265144
Lamar610784
Lafayette6028117
Washington5280132
Bolivar4770129
Oktibbeha455297
Panola4442103
Pearl River4420139
Warren4281118
Marshall4273100
Pontotoc416472
Monroe4057132
Union403775
Neshoba3988176
Lincoln3871108
Hancock372185
Leflore3468124
Sunflower329389
Tate322781
Pike3181104
Scott310572
Yazoo304368
Alcorn297764
Itawamba296876
Copiah293065
Coahoma289677
Simpson287484
Tippah284868
Prentiss275659
Marion265979
Wayne261341
Leake261173
Grenada254982
Covington254580
Adams245982
Newton244859
George237847
Winston225981
Tishomingo222067
Jasper219748
Attala213373
Chickasaw204857
Holmes186471
Clay182454
Stone179131
Clarke176876
Tallahatchie175540
Calhoun163230
Yalobusha158836
Smith158634
Walthall130543
Greene129433
Lawrence126323
Noxubee125933
Montgomery125542
Perry125138
Carroll120826
Amite120141
Webster113432
Jefferson Davis105432
Tunica102525
Claiborne101330
Benton97225
Kemper95226
Humphreys94332
Franklin81923
Quitman78916
Choctaw72817
Jefferson64828
Wilkinson64727
Sharkey49617
Issaquena1686
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 519071

Reported Deaths: 10712
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson754131487
Mobile37774798
Madison33868494
Tuscaloosa25283443
Montgomery23969565
Shelby23112238
Baldwin20638300
Lee15524165
Calhoun14286311
Morgan14140268
Etowah13664345
Marshall11957219
Houston10383278
Elmore9994200
Limestone9814147
Cullman9475188
St. Clair9429234
Lauderdale9218227
DeKalb8747181
Talladega8060171
Walker7092275
Jackson6755110
Autauga6727103
Blount6488135
Colbert6205130
Coffee5401112
Dale4768110
Russell428938
Franklin419982
Chilton4083109
Covington4053114
Tallapoosa3893146
Escambia388074
Dallas3527149
Chambers3500122
Clarke346360
Marion3066100
Pike305875
Lawrence295395
Winston272372
Bibb256458
Marengo248661
Geneva245875
Pickens232959
Barbour224955
Hale218775
Butler212366
Fayette208960
Henry187844
Cherokee182044
Randolph176941
Monroe171540
Washington164038
Macon154848
Clay149454
Crenshaw149357
Cleburne146041
Lamar139334
Lowndes136453
Wilcox124327
Bullock121340
Conecuh109028
Perry107926
Sumter102932
Coosa99328
Greene90734
Choctaw58724
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